Facilitating Conversations

In a Nutshell

Processing experiences: techniques for trip leaders to facilitate reflection conversations

Participants may end a day in Israel feeling inspired, overwhelmed, emotional, confused, energized, or exhausted. As trip leader, your goal is to facilitate conversations that enable participants to process what they experience and reflect on what they are learning and doing.

Participant feedback indicates that participants really value time to process in small groups, and wish they did more of it. It’s important that you build time into the itinerary for processing early in the planning stages; if you plan to do it ‘on the fly’ once you are in Israel, it simply won’t happen due to time constraints.

As you are planning your itinerary, think about key pressure points (e.g., Yad Vashem, West Bank visit) that are likely to trigger an intense emotional reaction and make sure that you build in time to process after these visits. Ideally, you want to hold at least one processing session per day.

Where you hold the sessions doesn’t matter, but it should be some place that is conducive to private, meaningful conversation in small groups (not the bus; hotels work well). Seating people in a circle enables everyone to easily see and interact with one other.

10 tips for facilitating conversations 

1. Form discussion groups early

  • Sort participants into small, set groups before the trip begins
  • Assign groups, divided evenly among leaders and tour guide
  • Groups should, as much as possible, reflect the diversity of the overall group
  • Meet at least once and, if possible, several times before departure
  • At the first meeting, have people introduce themselves and set group norms

2. Set aside time during the trip for group discussions so participants can:

  • Get to know each other
  • Debrief after programming; be sensitive to when participants will need more time to discuss and process

3. As facilitator, keep these goals in mind:

  • Keep the conversation on track
  • Create an atmosphere conducive to participation: build buy-in, trust
  • Model positive energy, inquiring attitude, listening
  • Provide perspective for the group: recognize the views of individuals and the group while providing a context and broader perspective

4. Help the group to establish its own ground rules

  • At the first meeting, help participants establish ground rules; a shared group agreement is more effective that rules enforced from outside
  • Ground rules establish a few (up to 5) group norms that will extend beyond the discussion groups and help ensure that the trip runs as smoothly as possible

5. Get the ‘conversation’ started

  • At the outset, when the group is just getting to know each other, keep introductions relatively brief
  • You might give a brief reminder of the schedule that they had during that day.
  • Quickly review the agenda or program and ask an open-ended question like “How was that for you?”
  • Kick off discussions of the programming with questions like:
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know when you woke up this morning?
  • Which of the statements that you heard today resonates most for you?”
  • Or share your own personal experiences from the day
  • Or offer a theme for discussion

6. Keep the conversation going

Here are some techniques for fostering a productive conversation:

  • Paraphrase – summarize the trends that are being stated in the room
  • Validate – repeat a key phrase or perspective after someone speaks
  • Name – put words to things that aren’t being said but are being communicated in other ways (“I can see that we’re pretty tired” or “I think we might need some outside air”)
  • Pause – let 10-15 seconds of silence pass in the room so that energy can become settled and reflective
  • Invite each participant speak when he or she is individually ready, not in the order of the circle

7. Build a positive experience through consistency

Keep the same groups for each discussion so group members get to know each other and feel more comfortable speaking their minds. Try to find time for facilitated conversations, but recognize that inevitably there will be times when there simply isn’t the time or participants are too exhausted to benefit from it.

8. As the group coheres, pull back and let them take the reins

As time progresses, they won’t need external facilitation unless the topic or process is particularly tricky.

9. Make sure everyone’s voice gets heard

Not everyone’s voice needs to be heard at every session or conversation, but all should be heard at some point. To encourage participation:

  • Offer different types of structures
  • Full group
  • Pods
  • Pairs
  • Note who is never talking and check in with them privately
  • Ask the “anyone else” question even if the frequent speakers have their hands up
  • Pause before calling on anyone – give quieter participants a chance to volunteer their thoughts
  • Watch for silence in addition to listening to what’s being said
  • Make sure there is not too much you as a facilitator

10. Debrief regularly with other team leaders

On a regular basis, share your experiences facilitating discussion with the other trip leaders.

TIP: Want to learn more about facilitation? Israel & Co brings in an expert facilitator at its annual trip leader training workshop in October. Click here to learn more.